Joey Logano came into the Irish Hills of Michigan this past weekend blazing fast. After winning the pole, he led a race-high 138 of 200 laps, and ultimately found victory lane in his No. 22 Ford in the FireKeepers Casino 400. Doing so, he claimed his first points-paying win of the season (won the Sprint All-Star Race on May 21) and punched his ticket to the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The only real hiccup of Logano’s race was on lap 117, where Rookie of the Year contender Chase Elliott claimed the lead on a restart. One fuel run later, on lap 154, Logano took back the top spot. After a few more cautions helped him conserve fuel, and the 26-year old driver aced numerous restarts, he led the rest of the way, reasserting his dominance en route to finding victory lane at Michigan International Speedway. He also proved that he is the ace of the new lower downforce package, scheduled for Kentucky Speedway in 2016 and all across the sport in 2017.
“Everyone did a great job of understanding what this [new lower downforce] package was going to do,” Logano said to FS1 in the winner’s circle. “They put together a great race car for me. Perfect execution. We’ve been knocking on the door for a win here all season. We got that All-Star win, but it’s nice to get that win and lock ourselves into the Chase.”
The victory was the 100th for Roush Yates Engines and the 50th for Team Penske since switching manufacturers from Dodge to Ford in 2012, two large milestones for two of the biggest names in NASCAR for the better part of four decades.
Chase Elliott finished runner-up for his best career finish after leading 35 laps. However, after restarting outside Logano on lap 154, Elliott missed a shift, which spoiled his chance to win his first career Cup race. Elliott, the son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, was hard on himself.
“You can’t do dumb stuff and win these races,” Elliott told FS1. “Completely my fault. The guys gave me a great car today. This whole NAPA group has been working so hard these past few weeks, and that one was on me. Like I said, you can’t do dumb stuff to win these things, and I did today. Putting it in the correct gear would be a good start.”
Kyle Larson earned his fifth top five of the season, finishing third. However, it was announced on Monday that his No. 42 car for Chip Ganassi Racing failed post-race inspection. It is not clear whether or not any penalties will be given out to the team later this week.
Brad Keselowski finished fourth after dodging trouble early on. The No. 2 car was trying to stretch his fuel mileage when he ran out of gas for a brief moment just past lap 50. Simultaneously, Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 car (eventually finished 12th) spun out, bringing out the first caution of the afternoon and saving Keselowski’s afternoon from spiraling out of control. Kevin Harvick finished fifth, and called it “the weekend of cautions”, as his 29th starting spot was determined by an ill-timed caution, and his shot at a win went out the window late due to another caution.
Carl Edwards came home in sixth place and Tony Stewart was seventh, his best result of the season. Austin Dillon finished eighth in his 100th career start, Jamie McMurray ninth and Kurt Busch rounded out the top ten. Ryan Newman, Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth and Trevor Bayne took the checkered flag in positions 11 through 15.
Some other notables included Jimmie Johnson in 16th, Ryan Blaney in 17th, Danica Patrick in 21st and Clint Bowyer in 23rd place. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 39th after Chris Buescher got loose underneath the No. 88, sending him and AJ Allmendinger into the wall, ending both of their days. Buescher went on to finish in 20th place.
“I hate it, but you try to take care of each other out there,” Earnhardt Jr. said to FS1. “We all try to race hard, and I wish he would have taken better care of us. He just lost the car and hit the quarter panel. It happens, though. I’m angry, but I won’t be too upset about it later. It’s frustrating right now because we had a good car and I was happy with the way the car drove.”
Joe Gibbs Racing failed to lead a single lap in a race for the first time in 2016. Denny Hamlin came home 33rd after blowing a tire late in the race and slamming the inside wall, and Kyle Busch finished dead last, 40th, after blowing an engine. It was the defending champion’s third straight finish outside the top 30.
“There’s nothing you can do to change it around,” said Busch to FS1. “You’re not going to go to the luck store and buy any. We had a lot of good fortune go our way at the beginning part of the season I guess. We still had blown tires that hurt us, but we’re either top four or we’re bottom four. There is no absolute in-between for us.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is off next weekend for Father’s Day. However, the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series will be in action at Iowa Speedway on Saturday and Sunday afternoon on Fox Sports 1. Enjoy the week everybody – and be on the lookout for Victory Lane!